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Paraplanning Standard Howwows – report from the first debate

10 March 2016

As the Paraplanning Standard debates in Leeds and Edinburgh begin, Rob Kingsbury outlines some of the key issues that arose in the first debate, which took place in London.

Over 150 paraplanners have registered to participate in the four Paraplanning Standard debates taking place around the country and online. The aim of the debates is to ascertain whether paraplanners believe there is a need for a standard or kitemark that lays down what a person needs to be able to demonstrate in order to call themselves a paraplanner, and how it might work in practice.

Paraplanning has taken great strides in the past few years in terms of its growth, recognition and level of importance within adviser firms and the industry. Within the paraplanning community there are highly skilled and professional people. But, anyone can call themselves a paraplanner. There are no qualifications a person needs to have or nationally recognised level of skills, knowledge and experience, in order to say they are a paraplanner.

For many, the debates are a means to address those issues and to help develop paraplanning as a profession, recognisable both within and outside of the industry.

As expected, the debate threw up more questions than answers but the idea of the debates, at this stage, is to raise the issues and garner ideas, rather than come up with a ready-made solution.

Once all four events have taken place a summary of the points and suggestions for further action will be published via the Howwow forum.

Key issues

The paraplanners in attendance at the London debate were open to the notion of discussing how a standard might be created and maintained and various ideas and issues arose including the role of qualifications; assessing and maintaining a standard; establishing a trackway to achieving the standard; and the potential role of the professional bodies.

As a potential model for running a paraplanning standard, Dan Atkinson of EQ Investors, presented on the NHS nurses mentoring programme. In brief, this is evidence-based nursing, based on outcomes and assessed on behaviour and practice. Nurses are mentored and assessed on their knowledge and understanding, professional attitude and practical care.

The mentors carry out on the job assessment and are specifically trained as mentors.

If a similar scheme was carried through into the paraplanning environment, it was suggested paraplanners could evidence knowledge, in terms of qualifications and CPD, and on-the-job skills (which would need to be defined at a national level).

The most thoroughly discussed area was around where the current qualification regime might sit, if at all, within the Standard framework. Since qualifications are a means of assessment already in place, should the standard start with a qualifications base, for example Level Four, and then be overlaid with practical skills and experience? Or should it be the other way around?

As one paraplanner pointed out, “Having lots of exams doesn’t make someone a good paraplanner. In fact I know people without any exams who are great paraplanners.”

The question arose also whether exams are useful in practice – given that they could have been passed many years ago – and in the context of usefulness, maintaining CPD could be seen as more meaningful and valuable in the day-to-day role.

The fundamental question is, what are the key skills and characteristics that make for a good paraplanner? “I’ve never met a paraplanner who doesn’t want to be at least as qualified as their advisers. We don’t need to persuade paraplanners to do exams,” said one paraplanner. “So is it more about assessment, mentoring and skills sets? Because that’s what’s creating the disparity between paraplanners now – qualifications and experience.”

Mentoring would be important to any scheme, it was suggested. The IFP Mentoring scheme was flagged up as a similar initiative. This saw volunteers take calls from paraplanners wanting help on a range of issues. One participant in the scheme said the mentors had received a lot of questions from paraplanners, which suggested mentoring could be seen as a viable basis for assessment under the standard.

Utilising the high level of camaraderie within the paraplanning community would be important in making the standard work, it was suggested.

Trackway

The point was made that any standard should not act as or be seen as a barrier to entry to the paraplanning profession.

As such, it was asked, should the process to achieving the standard provide a trackway for aspiring paraplanners, using a phased approach? Attendees described their own career progression path that took them from administrator, through junior paraplanner to paraplanner and senior technicians, and how this had given them a sound grounding that they found extremely valuable in their day-to-day work.

One attendee noted that many paraplanners work in isolation of their peers, therefore, having a trackway for people to follow would be useful in helping them keep up-to-date and progress their career and as such would be valuable to the paraplanning community and the industry.

Another discussion revolved around the potential role of employers. Would any standard need to be recognised by employers? One paraplanner said: “Are we doing this for employers or ourselves? It’s both but I think paraplanners primarily should be doing this for their own interests. Firms will come on board as they realise that the better qualified their paraplanners are the better it is for their clients.”

On the basis that any standard would need an ongoing framework to operate, the big question is, who would run it? Should there be a Paraplanning Standards Board drawn from paraplanning peers; should the standard be run an external independent body, as happens with the ISO standards; or should professional bodies, the PFS and CISI, get involved?

Questions were raised around the competitive nature of the professional bodies and their commercial needs and whether paraplanners would be better served by a standalone and independent structure. As one paraplanner put it: “It’s paraplanners that have banged the drum for Paraplanning, that is why Paraplanning has grown in profile and professionalism in recent years.”

Professional Paraplanner agreed to report on the debate under Chatham House rules.

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